Josh Kurtz: Sail Away

By Josh Kurtz

Ann Beegle’s cable TV service was down all summer.

So she skipped watching the Republican National Convention altogether. Then she missed most of the Democratic convention as well, though she went to a friend’s house to watch Bill Clinton’s speech — the only one she really wanted to see.

By summer’s end, she called the cable company to shut the service off altogether. She’s doing quite nicely without it this fall campaign season, thank you very much.

What we may be witnessing here is a political junkie breaking her longtime habit.
If you follow Maryland politics closely, it may have dawned on you that you haven’t read Ann Beegle’s name lately. One of the best operatives in the state, this onetime executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party, top aide to Jim Smith and campaign manager for Gregg Bernstein and others is on hiatus from day-to-day political combat — and it’s looking increasingly like this may become a permanent condition.

Not that there isn’t plenty of politics in what she’s doing now.

For the past 15 months, Beegle has been executive director of Star Spangled 200 Inc. — the outfit that brought us the wildly successful Star Spangled Sailabration event in Baltimore in June, marking the kickoff of the state’s celebration of the War of 1812 bicentennial. But this was no short-term gig: the nonprofit has several other high-profile events on top between now and September 2014, culminating in what Beegle calls “a 10-day maritime festival extravaganza” in Baltimore on an even grander scale than the Sailabration.

Anecdotally, Sailabration was a big hit — the largest event Baltimore ever hosted, and it went off seamlessly. Now a new report gives testimony to its economic power: 1.54 million visitors came to town over the course of the weeklong event, spending an estimated $166.1 million.

“From a purely economic standpoint, public investment in Sailabration was justified many times over,” the report from the financial research firm ForwardAnalytics concluded. “From a social standpoint, Sailabration reinforced the quality of life for Maryland residents…[and] added to the vitality and image of Baltimore as a tourist destination with press coverage and publications that extended far beyond the region — even beyond the U.S.”

That should make the efforts of Beegle and other Maryland civic leaders to win further business and political support for the events to come that much easier — both within the state and beyond its borders. Talking over breakfast recently a couple of blocks from her Inner Harbor office, Beegle said her mandate is to raise about $25 million over a three-year period, and Star Spangled 200 is more than halfway there.

Gov. O’Malley, she said, has been a tremendous asset — cajoling corporations from far and wide to contribute, and winning a commitment from the Navy and other key federal agencies to participate.

“He likes it because he’s passionate about 1812,” she said. “It gives him the opportunity to do something other than talk to them about political contributions.”

The journey — or shall we say voyage, since we’re marking the bicentennial of a largely nautical war — from political strategist to nonprofit impresario has been, in Beegle‘s words, “all so convoluted,” a happy accident. But just as successful politicians always like to say that the political game is situational, that can also hold true for its top operatives.

The state began preparing for the War of 1812 bicentennial by establishing a commission in 2007. And Beegle, who has worked with other nonprofits through the years, had been serving on the Flag House board in Baltimore. When the board asked her to lead the search to find a part-time director, her fellow directors wound up hiring her — “my great Dick Cheney move.” That got her in tight with “the whole war of 1812 community.” So when the nonprofit was created to handle all the bicentennial events, she seemed like a natural to run the show.

One of Beegle’s top goals in the job is to burnish Baltimore’s image — or “moving the wire on ’The Wire,’” as she puts it.

Beegle isn’t cutting herself off from the political scene altogether. She still follows Maryland politics closely, and shares her opinions on the personalities and issues of the day with friends. Not surprisingly, she pulls no punches when talking about the people she admires – and those she doesn’t.

Beegle is one of the movers behind the new group Emerge Maryland, which has been set up to elect more women to office here. With Martha McKenna, another ace Democratic strategist, she’ll be vetting potential candidates who could merit the group’s support and assistance.

Beegle continues to chat with old friends like Jim Smith and Gregg Bernstein — certainly if Smith decides to get back into the political fray in 2014, he’ll do so with Beegle’s advice and consent.

“Being in a [politician’s] kitchen cabinet,” she said with a smile, “is the way to go.”

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Speaking of successful celebrations, kudos to the folks who pulled off last week’s launch of the Montgomery County Business Hall of Fame, especially Larry Rosenblum, the former Montgomery Chamber of Commerce official who was the lead organizer.

The inductees were Norm Augustine, formerly of Lockheed Martin; Cliff Kendall, formerly of Computer Data Systems Inc.; Sid Kramer, of Kramer Enterprises (who of course also served as Montgomery County executive and as a state senator); Aris Mardirossian of Technology Patents LLC; J. Willard Marriott Jr. of Marriott International; and Carol Trawick, of the Jim and Carol Trawick Foundation. Of the honorees, only Marriott did not attend.

Last week’s inaugural luncheon, held at the Universities at Shady Grove and attended by about 300 people, raised some $50,000 toward the scholarship programs at Shady Grove. An anonymous donor kicked in an additional $200,000 for the scholarships in connection with the new business hall of fame.

Anthony Brown, Ike Leggett, Peter Franchot, Brit Kirwan, several members of the Montgomery County Council and other county eminences like Bruce Adams and Gene Counihan attended. Eun Yang, morning anchor of Channel 4 in Washington, served as emcee.

It’ll be a tough act to follow, Rosenblum concedes, but in some ways it will be easier. “The first year is tough to demonstrate that it’s real.”

Now, with the hall of fame fully established, Rosenblum promises “a more formalized nomination process” going forward. That could provide a useful ongoing discussion, among the county’s disparate business leaders and in the broader community, about the past, present and future of Montgomery County business.

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at joshkurtz92@gmail.com.

Recent Center Maryland columns by Josh Kurtz:

Nov. 6 Could Spell Trouble for Top Maryland Dems

Louie Louie

After the Blue Wave Crashes

The Impossible DREAM?

I’m Ready for My Close-up, Mr. DeMille

A Conversation with Ken Ulman

The Future Is Now?

Michael Row the Boat Ashore

Influencers: The Readers Speak

Will Battaglia Run for AG in 2014?